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North End restaurateurs shun Wu’s outdoor dining compromise

North End Outdoor Dining
An outdoor dining area by Mother Anna’s restaurant in the North End. Mayor Wu announced March 29 that outdoor dining fees for North End restaurants, imposed in response to the community’s complaints, can be paid in monthly increments and only for the months restaurants participate in outdoor dining. TAYLOR COESTER/DFP STAFF

Mayor Michelle Wu proposed a compromise Tuesday for the $7,500 outdoor dining fee the City imposed on North End restaurants for the upcoming outdoor dining season.

Wu announced at a press conference that North End restaurateurs can pay the fee in monthly increments and those who participate will pay only for the months they choose to offer outdoor dining. 

“From what I see today, it seems like there is a critical mass of restaurant owners who believe this can work, and we’re happy to offer those limited hardship waivers that can address specific situations,” Wu said.

The hardship waiver — which would allow restaurants to pay less than $7,500 — would take into account a restaurant’s liquor license, whether it has small patio space and if it is on North End’s main streets — Hanover and Salem.  

The $7,500 fee was introduced as a means to minimize the negative impacts of outdoor dining for local residents, who complained about excessive garbage, noise and traffic on the roads and in the area.

Nick Varano, the owner of the Italian restaurant Strega, and Philip Frattaroli — who owns multiple eateries in the area and is a board member of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association — showed support for the amended plan.

“I believe if we can come together and figure this out this year, we can have this for a longer time,” Varano said. “We can have this for the years to come. But if we don’t, it’s going to be something that’s lost.”

Aaron Michlewitz, state representative for the Third Suffolk district, said tailored regulations for the neighborhood were necessary because of how dense its infrastructure was. 

“Not having outdoor dining would put our restaurants at a disadvantage for the rest of Boston,” he said. “But not having the proper mitigation, for what is still a pilot program, will make this unworkable for the residents of the North End, as it was last year.”

On the fifth floor of the City Hall lobby, while the press conference was ongoing, a protest of approximately 30 people unfolded. Some people yelled, “Shame on Wu” while others demanded to be let into the press conference.

“What more do they want from us? They just want to destroy us,” Patrick Mendoza, a North End restaurant owner, said at the protest.  “They want to close us down and put a gap in my restaurant, or a Starbucks.”

After a group of restaurateurs said last week they would pursue legal action against the City if the measure stood, Wu signaled in a letter sent to The Boston Globe that if a compromise couldn’t be reached, the outdoor dining program would be shut down entirely.

“It was important to clarify that this is not a program that the city has guaranteed for any part of our city,” Wu said on Tuesday.

A petition titled “Outdoor Dining Fee Unfairly Targets North End Restaurants” has  gathered over 36,000 signatures so far.

“Please sign if you believe this excessive fee, which only applies to North End restaurants, is unfair and should be removed,” the petition read.  “Please let Mayor Wu know this is not fair and not in Boston’s best interest.” 

An hour after the press conference at City Hall, a group of restaurateurs held their own press conference outside Terramia Ristorante on Salem St, urging the City to drop the new measures entirely. 

Jorge Mendoza, who owns Vinoteca di Monica, criticized Wu’s press conference, which he said he and other opponents of the regulations were not invited to. 

“They went and had a private meeting on Sunday and they stabbed us all in the back, in the worst fashion,” Jorge Mendoza said. 

Carla Agrippino-Gomes, owner and general manager of Terramia, expressed her disagreement that the fee only applies to restaurants in the North End.

“If the whole city has to pay $7,500, we’re right there with you,” she said. “We’re on board, we’ll pay the $7,500. But we will not pay if we are the only neighborhood actually required to pay this amount.”

Agrippino-Gomes also expressed doubt at the City’s ability to transfer the money from the fees into actual quality of life improvements for residents. 

“All our restaurants, seven nights a week, pay for private trash removal,” Agrippino-Gomes said.

Last week, the group that threatened legal action against the City told The Boston Globe they would file a lawsuit by April 1 if the measures were not appealed. The group of restaurateurs outside Terramia said they were not certain what their next move would be. 

Agrippino-Gomes said they had spoken to an attorney, but had not officially retained him.

Emilia Wisniewski contributed to the reporting of this article.

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